HP, Microsoft form unified communications partnership

LAS VEGAS – In the past year, Hewlett-Packard’s ProCurve Networking division (NYSE: HPQ)has increased its product line and marketing spending to better challenge Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: HPQ)for the attention of network managers.

On Tuesday at the annual Interop conference the company increased its rhetoric as well, seizing the keynote spot from Cisco to announce a broadening of its partnership with Microsoft on (Nasdaq: MSFT)unified communications and collaboration.

The companies promised to spend US$180 million over the next four years to deliver end-to-end solutions combining Microsoft’s Office Communications Server, Exchange and SharePoint portal software with HP’s smartphones, servers, storage and switches to automate workflows and help organizations lower costs.

One goal, said Marius Haas, senior vice-president and general manager of HP ProCurve Networking, is to make video conferencing as easy as creating e-mail.

“We believe we can deliver these solutions in such to be of much greater value to you that what our competition can do,” declared Ann Livermore, executive director of HP’s technology solutions group, which includes the ProCurve division.

Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft’s business division, vowed the alliance will create a “fundamental disruption” in the way organizations collaborate today.

However, the announcement was short on detailed deliverables.

That’s because Tuesday was also the day HP reported its quarterly earnings, company spokesman told reporters, so it couldn’t say anything more than what was in the keynote and a press release.

More information was supposed to be available Wednesday.

The announcement could be seen as a blow to Nortel Networks, which was a prime partner with Microsoft on building telephony solutions. However, since Nortel filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year customers are more caution about buying its solutions.

Among the questions to be answered about the HP-Microsoft UC alliance is whether it goes beyond assuring customers that Microsoft communications solutions built on HP hardware will run optimally to whether it will create new products.

Livermore spoke of HP and Microsoft teaming up on research and development, marketing as well as implementing solutions. She also mentioned an upcoming HP IP desk-phone and HP laptops and notebooks will be certified for Microsoft UC solutions.

Even before the recession organizations were cautiously embracing unified communications, wanting assurances from vendors that promised productivity gains will actually be seen.

There will also marry video solutions combining HP’s Halo high definition video conferencing products and Microsoft Office Communication Server desktop capabilities to bring “conferencing to the masses.”

According to a survey of those who registered for Interop – not all of whom may be decision makers – 27 per cent of respondents said their organization has adopted unified communications, while another 17 per cent said are planning on it. Twenty-four per cent said their organization is interested in it, while 18 per cent said their organization is not.

In an interview with Canadian technology reporters, Karl Soderlund, ProCurve’s vice-president of sales and marketing for the Americas, said demand for unified communications “is still early on.” However, he said it is a “hot topic” among customers, leading him to conclude the timing of the Microsoft partnership is right.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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